I will venture to say that when most people hear “MBA” they think about making money in some capacity.
It’s true -- a business school degree often provides a golden ticket to a lucrative career, whether it be on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley.
Each year, I work with aspiring B-school students from all over the globe seeking such career paths, and it’s rewarding to see them ultimately fulfill their dreams -- whether it be taking on leadership roles in the finance sector or at top consulting firms.
In working with applicants from almost every continent, it was about 20 years ago that I observed a distinction between those from developed nations, and those from emerging-market countries. Applicants from developing countries almost always aspired to use their MBA degree to return and improve circumstances in their home countries. Meanwhile, First World applicants usually had their own career advancement in mind.
Recently though, I’ve observed a shift. More and more applicants who I work with seem to share the altruistic ambition of making this world a better place. If you, too, aspire to lead a career that affects positive change, you shouldn’t discount the MBA degree as a way to make that happen.
While 2020 has been rife with challenges and uncertainty, something that has uplifted me and brought a smile to my face is reading stories of MBA students and alumni utilizing their degree to make a difference. As the global pandemic precipitated during 2020, I have noticed one story after the next that collectively underscore this trend. It would take a very long article to include all of them, but below I’ve compiled some of my favorite examples.
Current students and recent graduates focusing on entrepreneurship have observed needs incited by the crisis and stepped up to meet them with innovative ideas and products. It’s been fascinating to observe their impressive ingenuity!
- A 2020 graduate at the Yale School of Management founded a startup to offer homeschooling guidance during the pandemic. Another current SOM MBA student co-founded a nonprofit initiative that converts snorkel masks into protective gear for healthcare workers.
- When an MBA student at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business returned home to India during the pandemic, she designed the contact tracing algorithm for India’s official COVID-19 contact tracing app.
- A Harvard Business School student created a platform called LivelyHood, which connects young and healthy volunteers with elderly and immunocompromised individuals in their community, for contactless deliveries.
- Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA students have created new businesses, networks and nonprofits aimed at supporting the people hardest hit by COVID-19. One student built “Gift Card Bank,” an initiative that collects unused gift cards and passes them to low-income Americans suffering financially due to the pandemic.
- Two recent MBA graduates from London Business School launched ShieldWear to provide PPE resources to the U.K. care home health sector. The initiative had a unique logistical solution. Through the help of a transport partner, they transformed an old Virgin Airways plane into a fully-fledged PPE freighter for charter flights from China to the U.K.
- A student in the Weekend Executive MBA at Duke's Fuqua School of Business repurposed orthopedic surgery suits with the help of 3D printing to create greater protection for health care professionals treating COVID-19 patients.
Students at many business schools have risen to the occasion to consult with locally-owned small businesses, at no cost. While this likely isn’t what they originally planned to do during their two years of grad school, the ways in which they have taken initiative to address the pandemic, and applied their skills to help others, has been awe-inspiring.
- The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School launched a new course which pairs students with small businesses in Baltimore. Through the course, Carey MBA students are providing strategic planning assistance for small businesses to weather the pandemic.
- For Indiana companies needing to suddenly shift their businesses online, the Indiana University Kelley School of Business has stepped in to help. MBA students help small businesses establish or enhance their online presence and strengthen their digital capabilities at no cost.
- Students at the William & Mary School of Business are offering crisis services to locally owned small businesses for free.
- The Kellogg School of Management created a small business advisory initiative, which connects local businesses with Kellogg students and alumni who provide marketing, financial planning and human resources support.
- Students, faculty and mentors at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management are able to provide free advice and insights to businesses affected by COVID-19, through the Rady School Business Recovery Coalition.
- MBA students from Emory University's Goizueta Business School partnered with the nonprofit Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) to support testing sites for vulnerable communities.
- A student-led initiative at Cambridge Judge School of Business has provided free consulting services to British companies on the topic of crisis communications and researching new business opportunities.
- A couple who graduated the same year from UCLA Anderson School of Management started a GoFundMe drive to raise donations for food-insecure students after the campus food closet closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown. To date, they have raised more than $10k.
- Alumni and students at Rotman School of Management are addressing the PPE shortage including one alumna who manages the Mask A Hero website after finishing her day job as an investment banker.
While current business students have sprung into action -- often with guidance from their respective programs -- many MBA alumni have reacted by pivoting their businesses, manufacturing new products and launching endeavors to combat the pandemic. I have personally loved reading about how grads already working in the field have taken initiative to use their degree to help others during this difficult time.
- The HEC alumni network in China and Europe volunteered to coordinate the production and shipment to France of 100 million protective masks and medical equipment.
- Two Tuck School of Business graduates teamed up to send personalized care packages from one alum’s startup, to customers of the other alum’s company.
- A NYU Stern School of Business EMBA alumnus redesigned his company’s name plate manufacturing process to produce more than 40,000 face-shields each week for first responders, physicians and nurses.
- An MBA alumnus from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, who co-founded a healthcare IT company, has worked to enable emergency responders to transmit patient information to hospitals in real time through his mobile software. The module enables EMS professionals to alert emergency room staff of incoming patients whom they believe to have the virus.
- An alumna of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business has shifted her distillery business to produce hand sanitizer exclusively for Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Safety.
- Two University of Virginia Darden School of Business alums have temporarily shifted their apparel company’s production from stylish activewear to face masks, in efforts to ebb the transmission of COVID-19.
- The INSEAD alumni network representing 170+ countries joined forces to build their own "Red Cross" called "Project Green for Impact" to meet the needs of communities around the world impacted by COVID.
- An alumnus of the Executive MBA program at the University of Washington Foster School of Business switched production of spirits at his distillery to hand sanitizer to help hospitals, first responders, and others on the frontlines of the pandemic. One batch was made from some "pretty tasty” Washington Hard Cider.
When prospective students mention that they want to make a difference in this world, they often ask me if they can do that with a business degree. My answer is always a resounding YES.
Do you hope to make a positive impact? Look around; this is your chance! A global crisis like COVID-19 begs for professionals to apply their problem-solving skills and innovate creative solutions. Get started now by registering for an information session, chatting with a current student, sampling a virtual class/webinar led by faculty, or scheduling a free consultation with a graduate school expert, like myself.
About the Author
Barbara Coward is a business school industry expert and internationally-acclaimed graduate admissions consultant with demonstrated expertise in strategic messaging and influential storytelling. Her services include resume review, essay editing, letter of recommendation strategies, mock interview prep, school selection criteria - and more. Barbara has contributed to prominent media and business school accreditation publications including AACSB's Best Business School Blog, Poets&Quants, BusinessBecause, the Financial Times, Business Insider and U.S. News & World Report.
You can reach her at LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.